Is Using Synth Presets Cheating? No.
And here's why..
Digital recall of some kind is an inevitable part of the natural evolution and technological advancement of software and hardware. Particularly as software and hardware converge deeper and deeper.
In fact when SSL created the technology to save mixing desk parameters to disk to be recalled later or in another studio on a similar desk musicians heralded it as a new era in music technology.
And being able to collate and catalogue those digital recalls, those presets become a part of the musicians repertoire and sound style.
A curation of WAV sounds, modular patches, synth presets and sample packs unique to you starts to define YOUR sound.
And with an arguably endless supply of synth presets, picking the ones that most sound like you will ultimately define your sound and how you use these sounds is what matters the most. And you're not alone, over 70% of musicians use synth presets
Additionally, as musicians, our time is important, whether that's due to working to deadline on a TV sound track or because we've being able to nab 2 hours away from the world one Sunday evening there's very few musicians amongst us who want to fill that time trying to dial in a sound they need only to end up unsatisfied with he end result.
Modern synths such as Serum, Spire and Hive have enough adjustable parameters to make arguably millions of different sounds.
This becomes a showstopper when at the peak of creative flow, getting out the arrangement and musical idea FAST sometimes is key to keeping ideas fresh and flowing.
Synth presets (and effects presets) allow an instant injection of sound right where you need it, sometimes it's the RIGHT sound, sometimes it needs a little tweaking and sometimes it's a placeholder, good enough to keep the idea of what you want it to sound like to revisit later.
Here's our top 5 reasons for using presets.
Don't under estimate the benefit of getting ideas down quickly and into building a basic song structure. It helps avoid burnout and also avoids getting stuck in the same 2 bar loop and feeling like you have no-where to go. Presets will quickly allow you to get your ideas laid down where you can spend time later tweaking the sounds.
Presets are often made by sound designers with years of experience and a deep knowledge of synthesis. You don't need to be a master of every piece of musical production to make hit songs. Is Lewis Hamilton a master materials expert, engine builder, aerodynamics designer? No, and it doesn't stop him being one of the worlds greatest race car drivers. He lets the experts focus on building the parts they're good at while he brings it all together into a winning package. Be the driver of your track.
Improves your sound design skills
Allowing you to deconstruct a sound that has meaning you will get a feel for the fundamental aspects that go into certain sounds. This will help improve your basic sound design understanding and could be an excellent way to build a foundation for your own sound design ability if you do want to get experience in this area.
A preset sound can instantly spark an idea, a feeling, take you in a direction you may not have ended up in via your usual methods. It can be the basis for a whole track or even be the defining sound. Ignoring presets means potentially cutting off a whole avenue of sonic inspiration.
Classic Trance Track Binary Finary - 1999 was based around a factory preset from the Yamaha W7
Trying Something New
Presets quickly allow you to try new sounds out in the musical context. Press some buttons and you've got completely new sonic ideas within the same track so if something's just not sitting right or feeling good, try a new preset, it may be bang on what the track needed or be close enough to get you where you want after a little tweaking.
With modern tracks often having many different synth, pad, bass, fx layers there's simply no need to spend hours on 1 sound because it's the end result that matters so reach for the preset pack, grab something new for inspiration and focus holistically on your musical endeavours.